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Young people struggle with permission to share online

February 5th 2019

Young people are struggling to resolve “consent confusion” online, according to new research for Safer Internet Day.

-  New research reveals the positives and challenges of young people sharing content online

-  Sharing content online seen as critical to connecting with the world and making a positive difference – but a lack of clarity around consent causes confusion and young people struggle to navigate ‘the rules’

-  Figures show a mismatch between young people’s attitudes to online sharing, and their actions

-  Research released by the UK Safer Internet Centre, official co-ordinators of Safer Internet Day, as part of this year’s campaign with over 2000 organisations coming together to support the day

New research commissioned by the UK Safer Internet Centre reveals how sharing and viewing content is integral to the lives of young people, and the positives and challenges that come with this.

The research comes as more than 2000 supporters in the UK, including Government ministers, Premier League football clubs, industry bodies, celebrities, charities, schools and police services join together with young people, to inspire people throughout the UK to ignite conversations and host events that help promote the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.

In an increasingly digitised world, with young people sharing a variety of content every day, 65% say they would feel disconnected from the world if they couldn’t be online. Helping them to make sense of their daily lives and wider society, 70% of young people say being online helps them understand what’s happening in the world and 60% only know about certain issues or news because of the internet.

Crucially, young people are using the internet as a safe space to understand and navigate topics they’re nervous to ask about, with 67% saying it’s easier to learn about them online. Encouragingly, the internet has helped almost half (46%) through a difficult time.

With technology enabling us to connect and learn faster than ever, 48% of young people say being online makes them feel like their voices and actions matter. Maximising on the collective power of the internet, 42% have been inspired to take positive action by sharing support for a campaign, social movement or petition.

However, the myriad of ways in which young people connect online means they must also navigate the complexities of asking for and giving permission before sharing. Young people have a strong sense of right and wrong online, with an overwhelming 84% believing everyone has a responsibility to respect others. However, in practice almost half (48%) admit their peers don’t always think before they post. 36% of young people are sharing screenshots of other peoples’ photos, comments or messages at least weekly.

This exposes young people to a confusing landscape when it comes to online consent, and a lack of consensus on how to navigate this. Half of young people (51%) think their friends should ask for permission before tagging them or sharing a photo or video of them, while 37% think their parents should ask. Furthermore, 27% are likely to read a friend’s messages without their permission.

Young people are also not asking permission before posting, despite 81% knowing when and how to ask. Consequently, in the last year over half of young people (52%) said someone they know shared a photo or video of them without asking.

This breach of consent can leave young people feeling anxious or not in control (39%), with a lack of clarity clearly having a real impact on their lives.

Even when permission is sought, young people are facing further pressures. Despite feeling confident telling their friends (82%) and parents (85%) not to share something about them online, in practice it can be difficult to say no. In the last year, 34% have said yes to something about them being shared online, even though they didn’t want it to be.

The ‘rules’ are also confused when consent is breached. Whilst the majority of young people would always remove something they’d posted about a friend if asked to, 36% would not. Encouragingly, young people do rally against injustices they see online and 68% would report something that had been shared about them without permission. 63% would report if it happened to a friend.

The UK Safer Internet Centre (comprised of Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation and South West Grid for Learning) believes it is crucial to bridge the gap between young people’s attitudes and behaviours online. With Safer Internet Day, the Centre is collaborating with hundreds of organisations across the UK to empower young people with clear strategies and guidance to navigate the internet in a safe and respectful way. The Centre has also developed educational resources to equip parents, schools and other members of the children’s workforce with tools to support young people.

Will Gardner OBE, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, says: “There can be no doubt that sharing and connecting with others online is an integral part of everyday life for young people. Today’s findings are encouraging, highlighting how young people have a strong sense of what is right online, and are harnessing the internet to make a positive difference for themselves and others.

“However, our research shows that without clear guidance for navigating the complexities of online consent, the gap between young people’s attitudes and behaviours is striking.

“Safer Internet Day provides a unique opportunity to address this gap, by listening to young people’s experiences, leading by example, and encouraging conversations about our online lives.

“It is vital that we – from an individual to an industry level – take responsibility to support young people to navigate consent online and put their positive attitudes into action. We must move beyond advising them only on what they should do online, and work with them to understand how to do this in practice.

“In doing so, we can empower young people, and those that support them, to be better able to harness and use the positive power of the internet for good.”

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “The internet can be an amazing resource. Used wisely, it can open up a world of information and learning, but as any parent knows only too well these days, with these benefits come serious and real dangers online.

“We must provide children with the skills to use technology and take advantage of the online world effectively and safely. We are making Relationships Education compulsory in all primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education compulsory in all secondary schools, to sit alongside the existing Computing curriculum. Teachers will address online safety and appropriate behaviour in a way that is relevant to pupils’ lives.

“All children will be taught about online friendships as well as to face-to-face relationships. I want children to understand that the same rules of good behaviour and kindness that they are taught in the playground also apply online.”

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “As a parent, I know how important it is to keep children safe online.

“The internet can be a fantastic place to connect with people and share information, but it can also be exploited by criminals and abusers. It’s great to see more than 2,000 organisations come together on Safer Internet Day to promote the positive power of digital technology.

“The Government is committed to keeping children safe online. We are working closely with the technology industry to make the internet a safer and more responsible place.”

The full research report can be read here: www.saferinternet.org.uk/our-internet